Manufacturing News

Standard planned for China's chaotic 'vintage liquor' industry

An industry standard will be released to end the chaos surrounding the labeling of production dates on bottles of baijiu, a pungent white liquor in China, said Song Shuyu, the secretary-general of the Chinese Alcoholic Drinks Association.

Song said the idea of an industry standard had been in discussion for 12 years and was expected to be introduced this year.

Under the new standard, vintage baijiu makers will need to possess a production certificate and register each batch with the association. In addition to facilities like labs and regulated supply systems, the qualified companies also need to have at least three national baijiu judges and five provincial judges.

"More than 90 percent of the malpractices in vintage liquor will be solved," Song said.

However, sources from within the industry said that because standards by an association are not legally binding, the influence would be limited.

Baijiu producers have often been found misleading consumers by exaggerating or ambiguously declaring the dates liquor has been produced.

The Beijing News reported that some smaller distillers established just a couple of years ago were claiming to have produced 30-year-old liquor. Batches are typically dated as "20," "aged" or "vintage."

While a vintage wine in the West means grapes were grown and harvested in a single specified year, vintage baijiu is a relatively new concept started in the 1990s in China. More importantly, a label with 30-year aged baijiu doesn't mean the bottle has been kept for 30 years, but rather the liquor included a mix produced 30 years ago at a certain ratio.

In the baijiu market, the more aged a bottle of liquor, the higher the price. However, it is difficult to tell exactly what year a bottle may have been produced.

Cai Xuefei, a liquor analyst, said companies randomly mark production dates for higher profits, and that customers are easily misled since no industry standard is available.

Data show that China has more than 7,000 baijiu producers, with about 5,000 selling "vintage" liquor.

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